letterspacingUse 5–12% extra space with caps, but not with lowercase

Let­terspac­ing (also known as char­ac­ter spac­ing or track­ing) is the ad­just­ment of the hor­i­zon­tal white space be­tween the let­ters in a block of text. Un­like kern­ing, which af­fects only des­ig­nated pairs of let­ters, let­terspac­ing af­fects every pair.

Low­er­case let­ters don’t or­di­nar­ily need letterspacing.

Cap­i­tal let­ters usu­ally ap­pear at the be­gin­ning of a word or sen­tence, so they’re de­signed to fit cor­rectly next to low­er­case let­ters. But when you use cap­i­tal let­ters to­gether, that spac­ing looks too tight. That’s why you al­ways add 5–12% ex­tra let­terspac­ing to text in all caps or small caps. This is par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant at small sizes (e.g., the footer of a court fil­ing).

How to set letterspacing

WordRight-click in the text and se­lect Font from the menu. Click the Advanced tab. On the line that says Spacing, in the box on the right, en­ter the amount of let­terspac­ing. Let­terspac­ing in Word is mea­sured in points. Use 0.6–1.4 points of let­terspac­ing for every 12 points of point size (this cor­re­sponds to 5–12%).

Word­Per­fectFormatTypesettingWord/Letter Spacing. In the box la­beled Letterspacing: Percent of Optimal, en­ter the amount of let­terspac­ing. Let­terspac­ing in Word­Per­fect is mea­sured as a per­cent­age of nor­mal spac­ing. Use 105–112%.

These are not ab­solute lim­its—use your judg­ment. But avoid the com­mon er­ror of spread­ing let­ters too far apart. If the spaces be­tween let­ters are large enough to fit more let­ters, you’ve gone overboard.

by the way
  • Ty­pog­ra­pher Fred­eric Goudy is fa­mously cred­ited with opin­ing that “Any­one who would let­ter­space low­er­case would steal sheep”. But a few sources claim that his orig­i­nal com­ment con­cerned black­let­ter fonts, not low­er­case, and that he used a more col­or­ful verb than “steal”.

  • I ac­cept the mi­nor­ity view on Goudy’s com­ment be­cause, as Goudy was doubt­less aware, some­times low­er­case should be let­ter­spaced. Fonts in­tended for body text have spac­ing op­ti­mized for body-text point sizes (ap­prox­i­mately 9–13 point). But ty­pog­ra­phers will of­ten add let­terspac­ing to low­er­case text smaller than 9 point in or­der to keep the spaces be­tween let­ters dis­tinct. Sim­i­larly, ty­pog­ra­phers will of­ten re­move let­terspac­ing from low­er­case text used at larger sizes (e.g., headlines).

  • As with kern­ing, if you use para­graph and char­ac­ter styles to make a style with all caps or small caps, in­clude let­terspac­ing as part of the style definition.

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